Less than a week before Christmas Day, the Joint Review Panel recommended the approval of the Enbridge Pipeline by the Federal government. Reactions have been as polarized as the preceding debate. Whether the pipeline is constructed as a direct result of the decision is, frankly, moot, as is any value judgment we attach. For now, we should place our cynicism on the shelf, and consider what is in front of us right now: Connections, the Report of the Joint Review for the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project.
The Report, produced by the National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, is an invaluable document, irrespective of where one identifies on the spectrum of public opinion. Connections is essential reading for anyone with a strong interest in the Enbridge pipeline. Although positions in the debate are unlikely to change as a result of the report, you’ll notice, if you have the patience or even the interest in reading government reports, that virtually every major grievance against the project is cogently articulated in comprehensive detail.
Unfortunately, media attention has focused primarily on the 209 conditions included in the appendices. The conditions come across as superfluous without the underlying circumstances provided throughout the Report’s body. Placed in their proper context, the conditions are serious and stringent. Moreover, shortcomings in Enbridge’s development process are clearly identified and acknowledged throughout each of the Report’s 11 sections.
For example: “Transport Canada confirmed that there are no provisions in Canadian marine shipping legislation that would make Northern Gateway’s marine voluntary commitments [. . .] mandatory or enforceable. The Panel finds that these voluntary commitments should be mandatory and enforceable [. . .].These conditions would be enforced by the National Energy Board.” And: “Michel First Nation indicated that Northern Gateway’s approach to consultation, which it described as ‘pan-Aboriginal,’ was an inappropriate approach.”
These are hardly the words of a one-sided assessment. Yet, the Joint Review Panel is rousing bitterness and intensifying opposition throughout the province. Multiple First Nations groups and advocates are threatening legal action; general opposition is more solid than ever; public and provincial opinions remain divided. Perhaps this antipathy stems from a general feeling that the decision is the beginning of the end for those committed to stopping the pipeline; the Report is simply documenting the changing of the tide. In reality, this may not be the end of the conversation but a relatively small step in the assessment process.
David Suzuki, in typical hyperbolic fashion, dismissed the Joint Review Panel’s Report as mere “rubber stamping” and a “foregone conclusion.” This is a shame, although not a surprise given Suzuki’s talent for exaggeration. Admittedly, the Panel’s decision warrants controversy, but only because it swings the process in favour of pro-pipeline parties. Even if read in its entirety, Connections will probably do little to dissuade those convinced that the decision is arbitrary and unfair. Nonetheless, the Report imparts some even-handedness and credibility to a narrative desperately in need of both.